ON YER BIKE column - By Kat Young

I don’t own a car. I live on the edge of Oxford, and work in the centre. I’ve been cycling to work in Oxford for five years and, this summer, I’ve taken my bike on trains several times for holidays and cycling events. Stress-free, it was not.

Gone are the days of a guard’s van where awkward shaped luggage such as bikes could be stored. Now each train company has a different set of rules for how and when you may, or may not, travel with your bike and each type of train has different storage methods.

My preference is for the slow stopping services, as these often have a carriage where one side has been allocated for easy wheel-on bike storage, with luggage overhead. Simple, accessible, but it takes up a lot of room on the train.

On the high-speed services, bikes are stored vertically in narrow booths and you’re lucky if they aren’t full of suitcases and bags already. Sometimes the trains will have a picture of a bike on the outside to let you know where these booths are, else you hope for a friendly staff member to help you.

GWR will tell you that they have won awards for their bike storage cabins on their new train stock, but ask any cyclist who has tried using them and they will regale you with tales of frustration.

A friend and I caught the train back to Oxford from Gloucester and, after 10 minutes of struggling (and getting in everyone’s way), we managed to get one bike in the outer hook to wedge the second bike inside. Not exactly accessibility-friendly.

The rise of the e-bike brings so many good news stories of increased mobility and independence, particularly for the elderly, but you can only take your bike on a high-speed train if you can lift it over your head. If you have wide mountain bike handlebars, no chance. If you have large tyres, good luck.

The nightmare scenario is that you’ve booked a space for your bike on a specific train as required, but all of the bike spaces are full. And if your train is cancelled and passengers are provided with a “rail replacement bus service”? No bikes allowed.

Bikes and trains should work. They should be low-carbon active-travel partners in a society facing imminent environmental and health crises. There is a large and growing market in adventurous leisure cyclists, commuters and holidaymakers that rail companies in the UK are bewilderingly ignoring.

I still live in hope. Signage is improving, with platform boards often indicating where bike spaces will be on the next train.

Train companies have introduced “Rail and Sail” tickets where you can book your train and ferry tickets to Ireland in one go, from any station.

The work of campaign groups like Cyclox, the voice of cycling in Oxford, lobbying for safe, connected cycle networks would open up the inclusivity and accessibility of environmentally-friendly, long distance travel.

For me, it can’t come soon enough.